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Why Japan should disconnect from fast-breeder reactor project – The Asahi Shimbun

EDITORIAL: Japan should disconnect from fast-breeder reactor project http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201806180025.html, June 18, 2018

France has decided to sharply scale down its ASTRID fast-reactor project, which is supported by Japan.

France’s decision underscores afresh the dismal outlook of Japan’s plan to continue the development of fast-reactor technology by relying on an overseas project.

Now that it has become unclear whether participation in the ASTRID project will pay off in future benefits that justify the huge investment required, Japan should pull out of the French undertaking.

Fast reactors are a special type of nuclear reactors that burn plutonium as fuel. The ASTRID is a demonstration reactor, the stage in reactor technology development just before practical use.

The French government has said the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration, if it comes on stream, will generate 100 to 200 megawatts of electricity instead of 600 megawatts as originally planned. Paris will decide in 2024 whether the reactor will actually be built.

Japan has been seeking to establish a nuclear fuel recycling system, in which spent nuclear fuel from reactors will be reprocessed to extract plutonium, which will then be burned mainly in fast reactors.

When the Japanese government in 2016 pulled the plug on the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, which was at the technology stage prior to that of a demonstration reactor, it decided to make the joint development of the ASTRID the centerpiece of its plan to continue the nuclear fuel recycling program.

The government will provide some 5 billion yen ($45.2 million) annually for the French project through the next fiscal year, which starts in April, and decide, by the end of this year, whether and how it will be involved in the project after that.

Because of significant differences in the roles of prototype and demonstration reactors, a simple comparison between the Monju and the ASTRID can be misleading.

But it is clearly doubtful whether the ASTRID, which will be smaller than the Monju, will offer sufficient benefits for Japan’s fuel recycling program.

If it fully commits itself to the joint development of the ASTRID in response to France’s request, Japan will have to shoulder half the construction cost, estimated to be hundreds of billions to 1 trillion yen, and assign many engineers to the project. But these resources could end up being wasted.

Over the years, the government spent more than 1.1 trillion yen of taxpayer money on the Monju, designed to be a small-scale example of the potential of the fast-breeder reactor technology. But the prototype reactor remained out of operation for most of the two decades after it became operational. It actually accomplished only a small fraction of what it was designed to achieve.

The government should make an early decision to end its involvement in the ASTRID to avoid repeating the mistake it made with the Monju project, which was kept alive at massive cost for far too long as the decision to terminate it was delayed for years without good reason.

The government has only itself to blame for the current situation. Despite deciding to decommission the Monju, it stuck to the old fuel cycle policy without conducting an effective postmortem on the Monju debacle. Instead, the government too readily embraced the ASTRID project as a stopgap to keep its fast-reactor dream alive.

The government needs to rigorously assess whether it is wise to continue developing fast-reactor technology.

Producing electricity with a fast reactor is costlier than power generation with a conventional reactor that uses uranium as fuel. The United States, Britain and Germany phased out their own fast-reactor projects long ago.

France has continued developing the technology, but feels no urgent need to achieve the goal. The country predicts that the technology will be put to practical use around 2080 if it ever is.

Even if Japan wants to continue developing fast-reactor technology, it would be extremely difficult to build a demonstration reactor for the project within the country given that even finding a site to build an ordinary reactor is now virtually impossible.

The government would be utterly irresponsible if it aimlessly keeps pouring huge amounts of money into the project when there is no realistic possibility of the technology reaching the stage of practical application.

If it abandons the plan to develop fast-reactor technology, the government will have to rethink the entire nuclear fuel recycling program.

Any such fundamental change of the nuclear power policy would have serious implications. But there is no justification for postponing the decision any further.

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June 20, 2018 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Why does Japan persist with dangerous, unnecessary nuclear Rokkasho reprocessing? Is it to enable nuclear weapons?

June 18, 2018 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Robots the hope for cleaning up the world’s riskiest and massive nuclear waste storage pool, at Sellafield, UK.

Above – Sellafield’s massive Magnox nuclear waste storage pool

Only Cthulhu can solve Sellafield’s sludgy nuclear waste problem, Wired,    , 14 June 18 

Cleaning up Sellafield’s nuclear waste costs £1.9 billion a year. To help with the toxic task, robots are evolving fast.  Sellafield has been called the most dangerous place in the UK, the most hazardous place in Europe and the world’s riskiest nuclear waste site. At its heart is a giant pond full of radioactive sludge, strewn with broken metal, dead animals and deadly nuclear rods. The solution to clearing up Sellafield’s nuclear waste and retrieving the missing nuclear fuel? Robots, of course. And to tackle this mammoth task, the robots are being forced to evolve.

Sellafield’s First-Generation Magnox Storage Pond is a giant outdoor body of water that’s the same size as two Olympic swimming pools. It was built in the 1960s to store used fuel rods from the early Magnox reactors – which had magnesium alloy cladding on the fuel rods – as part of Britain’s booming nuclear program. In 1974, there was a delay in reprocessing; fuel rods started corroding and the pond became murky. The pool was active for 26 years until 1992 and is now finally being decommissioned as part of the £1.9 billion spent each year on Sellafield’s mammoth cleanup operation.

The pond contains about six metres of radioactive water and half a metre of sludge, composed of wind-blown dirt, bird droppings and algae – the usual debris that builds up in any open body of water. Unlike other mud, it conceals everything from dropped tools and bird carcasses to corroded Magnox cladding and the remains of uranium fuel rods.

A number of robotic creations have bee used to get to the bottom of the pool’s sludge but struggle to break through the hostile environment. Tethered swimming robots do not have the sensors to find objects in the fine mud, and lack the leverage to lift chunks of metal. Experience at Fukushima has shown robots that are not well adapted to the environment are a waste of time.

Enter Cthulhu, a tracked robot that can drive along the pond bed, feeling its way with tactile sensors and sonar. The robot, which is currently in development, is approaching Sellafield’s problem differently. The robot will be able to identify nuclear rods and then pick them up. “Rather than trying to mimic a human, we’re building a robot that can do things humans can’t do with senses that humans don’t have,” says Bob Hicks of QinetiQ, which is leading the project.

The name stands for ‘Collaborative Technology Hardened for Underwater and Littoral Hazardous Environment,’ but it’s also a nod to Cthulhu, the godlike alien created by HP Lovecraft: both are amphibious, dwell in strange surroundings, and have sensory feelers. “Much like a walrus detecting molluscs, we hope to be able to detect and identify objects in the sludge with the whiskers,” says Plamen Angelov of Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications.

QinetiQ is supplying the tracked body, originally from a bomb disposal robot, and Bristol Maritime Robotics is developing the tactile sensors, while Angelov’s team is providing the neural network AI. It is planned the robot will use deep learning to fuse tactile and sonar data into a single picture of the world. Existing neural networks can handle video data, and ‘image classifiers’ to distinguish objects are well-established. But nobody has tried to fuse data from different types of sensor before.

Cthulhu’s classifier will learn to divide objects into ‘fuel rods’ and ‘everything else’………

The work at Sellafield is due to take several decades to complete fully. Nuclear waste is spread through several buildings in a variety of silos and pools. Each has its own challenges for cleaning-up. For the First Generation Magnox Pond, documents from the government show all the bulk fuel should be removed by the early 2030s. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/sellafield-nuclear-robots-cleanup-waste

June 15, 2018 Posted by | Reference, technology, wastes | Leave a comment

The nuclear power industry is dying under its own weight.New small nuclear reactors too costly, too late

Nuclear Power Won’t Survive Without A Government Handout, Five Thirty Eight, By Maggie Koerth-Baker  14 June 18Once upon a time, if you were an American who didn’t like nuclear energy, you had to stage sit-ins and marches and chain yourself to various inanimate objects in hopes of closing the nation’s nuclear power plants. Today … all you have to do is sit back and wait.

June 15, 2018 Posted by | business and costs, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

Japan approves 70-year plan to scrap nuclear reprocessing plant

 https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180613/p2g/00m/0dm/072000c

June 15, 2018 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Old, unproven, unreliable nuclear technology planned for Britain’s Wylfa nuclear power station

Unearthed 5th June 2018 Hitachi is seeking billions of pounds from the British government to help build a new nuclear power plant at Anglesey in Wales – but experts say the technology being used is far from proven.

Last week Hitachi-rival Toshiba confirmed that they are pulling out of a major nuclear power project in the USA which planned to use a similar reactor type to the one planned for Wylfa. Toshiba said in a press release that the South Texas
Project had “ceased to be financially viable” due to prevailing economic conditions.

The announcement leaves the UK as one of the last countries looking to build this technology, called the Advanced Boiling
Water Reactor (ABWR). Steve Thomas, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Greenwich, said that while there are some small differences between the European reactor led by Hitachi and the abandoned US reactor
from Toshiba, the “perception that this is proven technology is not supported by the facts”.

Although there are four similar reactors that have been built in Japan, plans for construction elsewhere have seen a
series of failures. And because of the long lead-in times for developing and building nuclear reactors, power plants built today may have been designed decades ago, Thomas said

“The technology that has been built already is actually 30 year old technology, which has been updated twice
over. So the plants that are operating do not really represent what we would build, and also the performance of the plants in terms of their reliability has actually been very poor.”
https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/06/05/wylfa-hitachi-nuclear-reactor-type-awbr/

June 8, 2018 Posted by | business and costs, politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

MOX nuclear fuel project in deep trouble, but judge rules against suspending its construction

Judge’s ruling keeps over-budget nuclear project from being shut down, BY SAMMY FRETWELL sfretwell@thestate.com  June 07, 2018

A judge on Thursday stopped the federal government from suspending construction of a nuclear fuel factory at the Savannah River Site atomic weapons complex near Aiken.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs damages federal efforts to walk away from the over-budget and behind-schedule mixed oxide fuel project, which has been on the drawing boards for more than two decades and is currently under construction. The mixed oxide fuel plant would turn excess weapons grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

The U.S. Department of Energy has been trying in recent years to suspend the project, saying it is expensive and no longer necessary to dispose of the plutonium. The latest federal plan is to ship excess plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear bombs, to a New Mexico site for disposal.

Childs’ order temporarily halts the federal shutdown process until arguments can be heard in court over whether to keep the effort going. ……..

Savannah River Site Watch’s Tom Clements, an opponent of the MOX project, said he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling Thursday. Clements says the project isn’t necessary.
“The judge doesn’t understand what deep trouble the project is in,’’ he said, noting that building the MOX project doesn’t necessarily mean South Carolina will get rid of all surplus plutonium at SRS.

The project is about $12 billion over budget and years behind schedule, but employs hundreds of people who would be out of work if the project shuts down, boosters say. It has been touted as a way to provide new missions for SRS.

Federal officials say they won’t forget SRS in shutting down the MOX plant. They have proposed converting it to a factory to make plutonium pits for nuclear weapons. http://www.thestate.com/latest-news/article212778069.html

June 8, 2018 Posted by | Legal, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Terra Power’s Traveling Wave Nuclear Reactor sounds great – BUT!

TerraPower’s Nuclear Reactor Could Power the 21st Century. The traveling-wave reactor and other advanced reactor designs could solve our fossil fuel dependency IEEE Spectrum, By Michael Koziol  3 June 18,    “….  ..In a world defined by climate change, many experts hope that the electricity grid of the future will be powered entirely by solar, wind, and hydropower. Yet few expect that clean energy grid to manifest soon enough to bring about significant cuts in greenhouse gases within the next few decades. Solar- and wind-generated electricity are growing faster than any other category; nevertheless, together they accounted for less than 2 percent of the world’s primary energy consumption in 2015, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

June 4, 2018 Posted by | China, Reference, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

Artificial intelligence could increase nuclear war threat

How artificial intelligence could increase nuclear war threat, according to RAND  by Joe Douglass, KATU News  1 June 18 “…..KATU talked with Andrew Lohn, an engineer for the RAND corporation recently bout a new study he co-authored.

“This study is: How might artificial intelligence affect the risk of nuclear war?” said Lohn. “We’re trying to look at it not from the way that pop fiction has looked at it over the decades where artificial intelligence gets control of the nuclear weapons and can launch them at will. But more about how, how could technologies that are a little bit more feasible in the near-ish term affect the way that humans perceive the risks or balances and cause them to make dangerous or improper decisions.”

For input, Lohn said RAND talked with top experts in the nuclear weapons and AI industries on the condition of anonymity.

…….Lohn said over the next couple of decades experts could see a path where AI might also be competitive in war gaming scenarios.

“And in that case generals or presidents would have to think, ‘Well, what do our main advisers say, what does the secretary of defense say?'” he said. “And then ask, ‘What does the computer say?’ And they might be influenced to making decisions that the computer suggests even without the computer being directly connected to any of the launchers.”

The other risk factor: Information overload from technology that may be able to take in and analyze a huge amount of data about an enemy’s arsenal.

“It can potentially be destabilizing if you know where all of your enemy’s launchers are,” Lohn said. “Or even if you don’t know where they are but they think that you know where all of their launchers are they might be pressured into a scenario where they think they’re in a use-it-or-lose-it situation.”

Or, Lohn said, if they think there’s an imminent attack, they could be pressured to “fire now” instead of waiting for confirmation…….http://katu.com/news/nation-world/how-artificial-intelligence-could-increase-nuclear-war-threat-according-to-rand

 

June 1, 2018 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

France scaling back nuclear reprocessing – fears of financial disaster as with Japan’s Monju project

Scaling back of French reactor a blow for nuke fuel reprocessing  THE ASAHI SHIMBUN  May 31, 2018 

Japan’s hopes of keeping its nuclear fuel recycling program alive faces another major obstacle with signs from France that a reactor project there will be scaled back because of swelling construction costs.

After the nuclear fuel recycling program suffered a heavy blow with the decision in late 2016 to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, government officials turned to France’s ASTRID program as an alternative information source for the fuel recycling plan.

But French government officials said the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration will have its planned power generation scaled back from the initial plan of 600 megawatts of electricity to between 100 and 200 megawatts.

The major aim of the nuclear fuel recycling program is to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium, which would be used to create mixed-oxide fuel that could be burned in nuclear reactors.

Government officials had hoped to use various technologies emerging from the ASTRID program to eventually construct a demonstration fast reactor in Japan. But a scaled-back ASTRID would mean knowledge needed for the demonstration reactor would not be available.

According to several government sources, French government officials informed their Japanese counterparts of the planned reduction in the ASTRID power generation plan due mainly to the high construction costs.

French officials also inquired about the possibility of Japan shouldering half the ASTRID construction burden, which could run anywhere between several hundreds of billions of yen to about 1 trillion yen ($9.2 billion).

Plans call for constructing the ASTRID in France with construction to start sometime after 2023………

Even some officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which has been promoting the nuclear fuel recycling program, have raised doubts about participating in the ASTRID program.

Concerns are also being raised among lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with one executive wondering if cooperating with the ASTRID program could end up much like the Monju project, which wasted more than 1 trillion yen following a spate of accidents and other problems.

(This article was written by Tsuneo Sasai, Shinichi Sekine and Rintaro Sakurai.)  http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201805310040.html

June 1, 2018 Posted by | France, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Logan city in Idaho ponders joining in costly and risky Small Modular Nuclear Reactor (SMR) development

Logan has 10 months to consider modular nuclear reactor program, HJ News.com, By Sean Dolan staff writer, 31 May 18,   “……..Right now, Logan is the largest city participating in a plan to build a small modular nuclear reactor just north of Idaho Falls.

The project is still in the development phases, and Logan has several opportunities to pull out of the project, including a coming deadline in March 2019. At that point, UAMPS Chief Legal Officer Mason Baker said, UAMPS will gauge how many cities are participating and decide whether it makes good business sense to keep going. Baker said UAMPS hopes Logan will sign power contracts before the March deadline. 

……“There’s all kinds of risks,” said Logan Light and Power Director Mark Montgomery. “There’s first-of-its-kind risk, there’s construction risk, there’s design risk, there’s a regulatory risk and probably other risks that I’m forgetting.”

Logan is set to participate in the nuclear reactor at 30 megawatts, which exceeds any of the city’s existing power contracts. Logan Finance Director Rich Anderson said there is always risk involved in the power business, but he is concerned with the financial risk involved in this level of participation…..Since 2016, Logan has paid UAMPS $206,000 for administration and general costs and has another $250,000 budgeted for this year. City Attorney Kymber Housley said there’s a risk that Logan could pay UAMPS hundreds of thousands of dollars for a project that might never happen.

“One of the big risks is it gets caught up in litigation,” Housley said in a Wednesday interview. “I don’t even think it’s a question of if; it’s more of a question of how many lawsuits will be brought trying to stop a nuclear plant.”

…… That long-term storage of nuclear waste was the main concern of Justin Robinson, vice chairman of the Logan Renewable Energy Conservation Advisory Board. Robinson urged the mayor and Municipal Council members to look at other options……https://news.hjnews.com/news/government/logan-has-months-to-consider-modular-nuclear-reactor-program/article_de23ab59-a2e2-5f74-84aa-9803c8eedf90.html

June 1, 2018 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

The very real and very serious danger of nuclear reactor accidents in space

NASA looks to send a small nuclear reactor to the moon and Mars SanDiego  Union-Tribune, 23 May 18 ………. some aren’t exactly over the moon with the prospect of nuclear power in space.

“I think it’s too dangerous,” said Bruce Gagnon, the coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, based in Brunswick, Maine.

Among other incidents, the group points to a Russian nuclear-powered satellite that crashed into the Indian Ocean in 1982 and chunks of another that fell into a remote area of the Northwest Territories of Canada in 1978.

Gagnon also worries about launch accidents, contamination and whether projects like Kilopower may “serve as a Trojan horse” that could lead to using nuclear to power weapon systems in space.

“It’s not the kind of thing we can play games with,” Gagnon said. “One thing we know is technology is not invincible — the Titantic, the Challenger, Fukushima, there are a whole host of examples in the modern age. And when you start mixing nuclear power into the equation, it’s a very dangerous thing.”

May 25, 2018 Posted by | safety, technology | Leave a comment

Cosmic radiation will damage the brains of space travellers

Can we protect the brain from cosmic radiation? Medical News Today , As we prepare to enter a new era of space travel, we must find ways of averting health risks posed by the cosmic environment. Deep space radiation, in particular, is known to impair cognitive function………. One main threat comes from cosmic radiation, which can harm the central nervous system, altering cognitive function and leading to symptoms similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease.

……. ‘Cosmic radiation may affect brain long-term’Previous research conducted by Rosi and team found that, after mice were exposed to a level of radiation roughly equivalent to what human astronauts might encounter during an outer space mission, their capacity to differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar objects was impaired.

Usually, when mice are faced with two objects — one that is new and unknown to them and one that they formerly explored — they will spend more time familiarizing themselves with the new object.

However, the animals that had been exposed to radiation tended to spend an equal amount of time exploring both objects, which suggested to the researchers that the mice had forgotten they had already been exposed to one of the two.

Other symptoms that the mice presented included problems with social interactions and a sense of elevated anxiety. Rosi and team note that this was likely because of the effect the strong radiation had on the microglia, or nerve cells found in the brain and spinal chord that are part of the central nervous system’s immune mechanism.

When microglia are activated, they can cause symptoms — such as impaired memory recall — that are consistent with those of neurodegenerative disorders.

This is partly due to the fact that they are driven to destroy synapses, or the connections formed between brain cells that allow them to convey information.

We are starting to have evidence that exposure to deep space radiation might affect brain function over the long-term, but as far as I know, no one had explored any possible countermeasures that might protect astronauts’ brains against this level of radiation exposure.”     Susanna Rosi………https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321898.php

May 25, 2018 Posted by | radiation, technology | Leave a comment

Nuclear industry’s big gamble on going small – but it mightn’t work!

Small Nuclear Passes a Milestone – But Does it Have a Future?
U.S. regulators for the first time have approved a design for a ‘small modular reactor,’ but it remains to be seen whether going small can save nuclear power.  S. News, By Alan Neuhauser, Staff Writer May 22, 2018  “… the nuclear power industry is betting its future on going small.

Even as cheap natural gas and falling prices for solar, wind and battery storage have all but killed the prospects for expensive new nuclear power projects in much of the developed world – and especially the U.S. – a handful of companies is plunging ahead in an effort to design a small modular reactor promised to offer flexible, carbon-free electricity at a competitive price.

Earlier this month, NuScale Power, based in Oregon, passed a significant milestone, earning Phase 1 approval from U.S. regulators for the design of its nearly $3 billion small modular reactor – an early but crucial step in the development of small nuclear technology.

…….. An operational small modular reactor, however, remains a decade or longer away from becoming concrete-and-steel reality. And in that time, the question remains whether the market for costly new nuclear plants – already a challenge, and all but dead in the U.S. – will become even more challenging in the intervening years as renewable and battery prices continue to fall and U.S. gas production booms.

One major consulting firm, which declined to comment on the record, stated bluntly, “There are doubts in terms of the economic viability of these projects.”

Some environmental groups have also shared that assessment: “Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realized, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power,” the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is generally skeptical of nuclear power, wrote in 2013.

……. NuScale Chief Commercial Officer Tom Mundy has predicted that the first small modular reactors would cost about $100 per MW-hour and drop to about $90 or lower – roughly the same cost that the U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated for large-scale advanced nuclear projects, including tax credits. Renewables such as new solar or onshore wind, by contrast, cost about $47 and $37, respectively, while advanced natural gas plants cost about $48……..  some organizations remain skeptical of nuclear’s role in addressing climate change, arguing that the technology – even for small modular reactors – remains too vulnerable to accident or deliberate attack and that solar or wind plus battery storage offer a safer option.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, allows that while smaller reactors are less dangerous than larger ones, such a view can be “misleading, because small reactors generate less power than large ones, and therefore more of them are required to meet the same energy needs. Multiple SMRs may actually present a higher risk than a single large reactor, especially if plant owners try to cut costs by reducing support staff or safety equipment per reactor.” ……https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2018-05-22/small-nuclear-passes-a-milestone-but-does-it-have-a-future

May 25, 2018 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Mox plutonium reprocessing plant has been a huge waste of U.S. taxpayers’ money

Another SC nuclear boondoggle could soon meet its end. This time it’s $7B in taxpayer money wasted, Post and Courier By Andrew Brown abrown@postandcourier.com , – May 20, 2018 

      COLUMBIA — It’s a familiar story in South Carolina: Nuclear contractors fail to produce a reliable schedule, start construction with just a fraction of design finished, and let pipes and other material corrode in storage under the watch of government agencies.

The abandonment of two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station generated headlines and riled state lawmakers since last summer, but 90 miles south, a similar scenario played out at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

The federal government has likely squandered more than $7 billion as they watched a project fall decades behind schedule and its final cost increase by 12 times the initial estimates. And, like V.C. Summer, the plug is being pulled. The parallels don’t end there: The debacles also shared two of the same contractors.

  • The Savannah River project has not faced the same anger and scrutiny as the abandonment of the two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County — likely because the inflated cost of the complex project is being distributed to federal taxpayers across the country instead of 1.6 million electric customers in South Carolina.

    For more than a decade, the U.S. Department of Energy and its private contractors have tried to build the plant to turn Cold War-era nuclear weapons into fuel that could be used in nuclear power plants. It’s known as MOX, short for mixed oxide fuel fabrication.

    The project became a federal priority around the turn of the century, and was intended to be a cornerstone of the United States’ effort to reduce its aging stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

    But for more than four years, it has been on the federal chopping block. In federal studies and congressional testimony reviewed by The Post and Courier, government officials laid out a long list of problems with the contractors and the project in general. Two presidential administrations have tried to put an end to the costly undertaking.

    Each time, however, South Carolina’s powerful congressional delegation revived the project, siding with the contractors who disputed the findings of independent consultants and federal agencies.

    Now, it may be too late. Congress gave U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry the power in March to put an end to the 11-year construction effort, and the federal agency is already taking action.

    Earlier this month, President Donald Trump’s administration released an alternative proposal to deal with the 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium that was set to be processed at the site. They estimated it will cost less than half of what it would take to finish the MOX facility and turn the plutonium into commercial fuel.

    The new plan calls for mixing the plutonium with another material, not revealed by the federal government, and storing it below the New Mexico desert. Buried with it could be the second major nuclear project to be cancelled in South Carolina in less than a year.

    ……..the companies have sunk billions into the facility that has risen out of the surrounding pines. But many of the circumstances that drove federal officials to approve the project, including the deal with Russia, have changed.So, too, have the projections for the final cost of the facility. It now stands at roughly $17 billion.

    A ‘horror story’ for taxpayers? 

    U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper took direct aim as he opened a congressional oversight hearing in the fall of 2015.

    “I am worried that, as we enter the month of October and head toward Halloween, that really the subject of this hearing is a horror story for the American taxpayer,” said Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee.

    By that time, the contractors’ forecasted price tag for the facility had jumped by more than six times the estimates from 2002. The Department of Energy estimated the cost to be even higher, and President Barack Obama’s administration was pushing to end construction altogether.

  • …..John MacWilliams, an Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy, told the federal lawmakers one of the biggest problems was that construction began with only 20 to 25 percent of the design for the MOX facility complete.

    “Immature design is one of the biggest problems we face,” said MacWilliams, who led a special team that reviewed the project’s management.

    MacWilliams also reported that around a quarter of the rebar, pipes, electrical wiring and other material that was initially installed had to later be torn back out and replaced — slowing construction and increasing the cost of labor.

    Like V.C. Summer, federal officials reported materials being ruined because parts were ordered years before they were ever needed. The contractors reportedly didn’t have a “resource loaded” schedule that tied together supplies and construction work. Fifty percent of the piping that was manufactured as of 2016 was unusable due to corrosion and design changes, a report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found. “This pattern of early procurement is systemic,” the report said.

    “I think it’s clear that although there is blame to go around on all sides the contractors from the very beginning misled the Department and for that matter the U.S. government,” MacWilliams told The Post and Courier last week.

  • ……..Existing facilities at Savannah River are already capable of diluting the plutonium, but the federal government also wants to install new equipment to speed up the work that’s expected to continue for the next three decades. The full price tag for the process, according to a new Department of Energy analysis, could equal another $19.9 billion.

    By comparison, federal officials say it would take another $48 billion to complete the construction of the MOX facility, as well as finish the work of turning the plutonium into fuel.

    “The MOX project is not viable and needs to be terminated,” said Tom Clements, an advocate that runs Savannah River Site Watch, who has monitored the project for years. “It’s a huge waste of money.”……https://www.postandcourier.com/business/another-sc-nuclear-boondoggle-could-soon-meet-its-end-this/article_e7096912-590a-11e8-b88a-a76a2bf0e36e.html

May 22, 2018 Posted by | reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment